More Batteries Are In California’s Energy Future

by Anna Gretz
December 20, 2017

In 2017, California pretty much killed it in the energy storage category. Both on a residential and grid-wide level, California utilities have been putting a major focus on storing renewable energy in batteries, and it’s paying off. It’s paying off so much, they’re going to ramp up their efforts, and do more of the same. A whole lot more.

The future of California energy lies in batteries. Let’s talk about the plans the state has for energy in 2018, in both the residential and grid-scale sectors.

Let’s start with the grid.

California has already been actively cancelling plans to bring new power plants (the natural gas kind) into the electric network, and has been looking at distributed energy instead.

What exactly is a distributed energy grid? It’s exactly what it sound like. Distributed energy is a shift from the traditional way we think about the power grid: a spiderwebbed network of wires stemming from a central power plant. This original system is not only pretty old, it’s also pretty vulnerable. Think about it. What’s easier to take out? One big spider in the middle of the web, or a million little ones coming from every direction? As it stands, the electric power grid has some major, poorly-protected targets, and if and when those go down, they cause widespread outages. Pretty much everyone agrees there has to be a better system out there. And there is.

It’s called distributed energy. When you spread out electrical generation and storage, you have a stronger, more reliable grid. That’s exactly what California is working toward.

Changing up the plans for new power generation to include cleaner, distributed energy sources is just the beginning. Now that many of the plans to build new natural-gas-fired power plants have been waylaid… or cancelled altogether… California is thinking about replacing existing power plants with distributed energy, too.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) introduced a resolution earlier this month that is set to authorize Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to “procure energy storage or preferred resources to address local deficiencies and ensure local reliability.” Let’s unpack that a little bit.

In short, what this resolution aims to do is introduce a new way of meeting the electrical demand of Northern California. Right now, there are three major natural gas power plants in the area that are covering electrical capacity needed for the region. But instead of just leaving the job to these plants, PG&E would open up the job to competitive solicitations for distributed energy resources (DERs), like energy storage. The purpose of this would be to create a more resilient energy situation for everyone in NoCal. Sounds like a pretty good idea to us.

Now, not every plant is going to be replaced by DERs… at least not yet. Some power plants in California are relied upon pretty heavily by the grid at the moment, like the Metcalf Energy Center near San Jose, which has a capacity of 580 megawatts. Major players like this would be kept in the loop to ensure that the utility can meet the electrical demand of the state without a hitch, especially on California’s hottest days, when air conditioners are turned up by pretty much everyone. A/C comprises one of CA’s biggest power demanders, so when air conditioning loads surge, there’s a pretty major influx in power demand. Until the state has a wealth of DERs, some gas-fired plants are going to have to remain online.

The thing about these major natural gas plants, though, is that they cost. A lot. And a lot of California’s regulators think that replacing them with a more distributed network could not only strengthen the grid, but save everyone some money… including ratepayers. But many ratepayers themselves have been taking action to change they way they generate and store energy on their own property, which brings us to part two of this post:

Residential Energy Storage

Californian homeowners are generating more electricity from solar power than ever have before. The growth of new solar power installations in the residential sectors has been exponential the last few years. Homeowners have been soaking up the sun to power everything from refrigerators to computers… during the day, that is. Everything changes when the sun goes down.

Everyone, especially the owners of rooftop solar, is familiar with the sun’s routine. At the end of the day, the sun is going to go down, whether it’s in charge of keeping your lights on or not. Many solar households are pretty frustrated by the sun’s intermittency… but they don’t have to be. There’s a way to keep the sun working for them, and providing electricity for their homes, even in the middle of the night. Sounds awesome, right? Plus, it contributes to a more resilient, distribted energy grid at the same time.

Homeowners can store energy, too. All they need is a home battery.

The simplest and best way for homeowners to solve solar power’s intermittency glitch is to install a home battery--a battery that stores energy from rooftop solar panels during the day, so you can still use solar generated electricity at night. It really is that simple. Home batteries are charged each day with electricity generated by solar panels (or, alternately, they can be charged with electricity straight from the grid.) These daylight hours are usually times that households need electricity the least; households are lit with natural light (thanks to the sun… again) and many people are out of the house. During these hours, unstored electricity generated by solar panels either goes unused, or leaks back into the power grid. With a home battery, this energy is waiting to welcome you home to a fully-charged house, ready for whatever you have planned for the evening.

The future of California’s energy sitch includes residential batteries as much as it does grid-scale energy storage, and this is great news for homeowners. On-site energy storage, doesn’t just provide homes with power, it provides them with power security. We’ve already established that the current state of the power grid isn’t great, and the current cost of energy is equally unstable.

Energy independence and security is hugely appealing to homeowners, especially now.

That’s why Swell developed EnergyShield, the world’s first solar + storage energy security plan. Swell though that energy security and independence should be available for everyone, so plans start at just $1 a day.

Interested in being part of California’s more distributed energy future? Get more information on EnergyShield here, and join the distributed energy revolution.